Saturday, March 28, 2009


Pubdate: Wed, 25 Mar 2009
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2009 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Jonathan Saltzman

Officials Want Children Shielded

Dozens of Massachusetts cities and towns are taking steps to impose
stiff new fines for smoking marijuana in public and even to charge
some violators with misdemeanors, a trend that critics say subverts
the state ballot question passed overwhelmingly last fall to
decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In recent weeks, at least seven communities - Duxbury, Lynn, Methuen,
Medway, Milford, Salem, and Springfield - have passed bylaws that
target people who light up in public. And two dozen cities and towns
expect to vote this spring on similar measures, which proponents liken
to local open container laws that ban drinking alcohol in public.

Police officials say they want to discourage flagrant marijuana
smoking, particularly in public parks, schoolyards, and on beaches
where young children gather. While last year's ballot initiative
reduced possession of an ounce or less from a misdemeanor to a civil
infraction carrying a $100 fine, police say that some marijuana
smokers mistakenly believe that the voters legalized the drug

"If you're smoking marijuana in front of schoolchildren, to me that's
a little bit more serious than smoking a joint by yourself out in the
middle of the woods," said Salem police Captain Brian Gilligan. His
city recently authorized officers to fine public smokers $300 in
addition to the $100 fine for possession. The Salem bylaw also lets
officers give them a misdemeanor summons, although Gilligan predicted
that few will get them.

Advocates of last fall's ballot initiative say the new civil fines for
smoking marijuana in public are, at best, unnecessary because those
individuals can already be fined for possession. At worst, they say,
bylaws that treat smoking violations as a misdemeanor are a backdoor
attempt to subvert the will of Massachusetts voters, who approved
decriminalization in November by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.

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